Category Archives: Volunteering

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Volunteering during a pandemic

Katie Pilcher manages the volunteers at COAM and she has written a blog post to tell us about her experiences supporting our cohort of volunteers during the Coronavirus pandemic this year….

It has been a very different year for us all at COAM, especially our volunteers. They give us so much of their time and many have done so for years. Rewind back to March, when we had to tell our amazing team that they were not able to volunteer in the way they had grown to love, it was really difficult. For so many, COAM is its own community and a lot of our volunteers really do move their lives around their volunteer duties at the Museum.

Volunteer feeding sheep
Lockdown 1.0 came into play right at the beginning of our lambing season – a time of year when volunteers are hugely involved in supporting our Farm Team. Lambing 2020 definitely meant a lot to us, not only because it was our first season in 20 years where we hadn’t lost any lambs but because it became a lifeline. Some of our volunteers live in small apartments and some live on their own so being able to help keep all our new arrivals alive was important at a time where we were all relishing our one dose of exercise a day. Our Communications Team kept our entire team of volunteers updated with all our lambing news and was often asked to send more videos or photographs for them to forward onto family to lift spirits.

When we all received the good news that we could open to the public, we all breathed a sigh of relief. It had been very quiet at the Museum in the months leading up to June so being able to let our volunteers come back on site and provide them with a safe escape was blissful.

Volunteer drilling at Chiltern Open Air Museum

The question I often get asked is, ‘why do people choose to volunteer with your organisation?’. In previous years, I’d often say ‘‘they want to fill their spare time’, ‘they want to support a good cause’ or ‘they want to meet new people’. 2020 has altered me being able to answer that so easily. I’ve asked most people I’ve supported this year why they continue to volunteer with us and no two reasons are the same. Lots of people have been put on furlough, have more time, lots have debated volunteering with us and decided now was the time to get involved. Some people needed a break from reality or wanted to do something valuable with their time and others needed structure or routine to their week. COAM certainly fills a hole that people needed filled.

We have been incredibly lucky to gain an insane amount of new volunteer support this year but not only that, volunteers who haven’t been involved for a number of years have started back up again. Is this because of the pandemic? Probably, but I know many of our team are keen to continue volunteering with us even when we get back to some sense of normality.

Volunteer taking down Christmas decorations at Chiltern Open Air Museum

I wanted to let the spotlight shine on our volunteers and let them tell you what it has been like to volunteer during the coronavirus pandemic and how they feel about volunteering at COAM.

Addalyn:

“When I first visited COAM I noticed the volunteer sign on the wall and knew immediately that I wanted to come back and be a part of what they were doing. To me, there is almost nothing better than walking around the empty museum in the morning doing animal chores. Even when it’s raining or cold, COAM feels like home and the people there feel like family.”

Wendy:

“I often took my children here years ago; they loved it, and now my son will be getting married in Skippings Barn. So I was delighted to hear that COAM was looking for volunteers. Although I’ve only recently started, I already feel at home. Everyone has been helpful, friendly and above all incredibly knowledgeable. I enjoy helping with the Astleham garden; sometimes I do the ticket office, stewarding and on one occasion assisted with archery (unfortunately just to disinfect the arrows!) It’s a very rewarding place. There’s always so much going on, yet it’s peaceful as well, and there’s a great sense of community. Most of all, it’s good to feel that you are part of something special.”

Donielle:

“I enjoy volunteering at COAM because I get to be outdoors and with the animals. In addition, it is inspiring to be a part of their mission. I think what COAM is doing is important and helps modern visitors to understand how people lived and worked in the past. It is a physical representation of the past which is often hard for people to imagine.”

Volunteer folk singers at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Andrew:

“My wife was looking at COAM via Facebook and saw an advert for costumed volunteers. “You’d love that” she said, knowing that I was into Amateur Dramatics and liked dressing up! So I emailed Katie and she invited me over. She described the project which had some funding and was to be properly launched next year. The costumed volunteer will take a building and be dressed in clothes appropriate to the building and the time period answering questions and giving an additional insight into our assets.

So the first week, to see whether I liked it, I took the 1940s pre-fab and was in my own clothes. Having studied the background notes to the building I was all ready to impart my vast knowledge to the public! Well, rather than doing this, I learnt so much from those who visited the building. One man had spent his childhood up to aged 11 in one, another told me all about heating with back boilers and another man was an expert on asbestos. The different grades, how dangerous, how to dispose of it, etc. I felt slightly overawed that I had learnt much more than I had imparted.

Week 2 came and Katie found me a 1940s great coat and some trousers which was brilliant as frankly it was quite cold. This week armed with my knowledge and what I had learnt from visitors in week 1, I was away. Visitors love the house and there is so much inside which reminds them of their childhood or of their grandparents’ household items. The children are a joy and ask the most unexpected questions.

Week 3 the Henton Mission Room and back to learning. I am obviously a newbie but loving it and talking to the wonderful visitors that we attract here. Here’s hoping that more costumes will be created for next year and if you see an elderly vicar walking round the site next Spring, it might be me!”

Paula:

“I don’t know exactly what I expected when I first volunteered to help at COAM: something to give a little bit of structure to my week, maybe; a chance to socialise more after weeks of lockdown; a way to support a valued local institution that was feeling the effects of coronavirus. Well, I got all of these but so much more.
Initially, I offered to steward and spent time in the Toll House and in Leagrave Cottages. The first thing I noticed was the warm welcome from existing staff members and volunteers. In those first few sessions, so many people came to introduce themselves, have a chat and offer help. Quickly, I felt part of the family.

Then there was the pleasure of chatting to the visitors, sharing my ever-increasing knowledge and hearing their recollections and stories. I had wonderful questions from children, such as ‘Really, no wi-fi?’ and ‘How did people manage with no movies? Did they make their own?’ One child, on seeing the besom broom in the Toll House, asked if I was a witch! I met so many interesting people: two lovely ladies in Finnish national costume, a Scottish organic farmer who had come ‘down south’ for some work as a film extra and two lovely (but scary!) architectural conservationists who knew much more about the building I was standing in than I did!

But the over-riding benefit is the store of memories that will keep me going over the winter. I will remember families picnicking and playing on the Village Green, relaxed and safe from the virus; standing by the Snack Barn on Wild about Wool Sunday, enjoying the autumn sun on the changing leaves and watching smoke curling out of the chimneys of Leagrave and the Forge; the fragrance of the roses outside Astleham Manor cottage; the goats standing in a line on the fallen tree-trunk. Most of all, though, I will remember walking up the lane from the Toll House at the end of the day, picking blackberries from the hedgerows. It could have been a country lane a hundred years ago. How peaceful!

Then, something new. I started helping on the Accompanied Walks programme where we offered a walk round the museum and tea and cake to people who were feeling particularly isolated as a result of the virus. I was anxious at first that I may not know enough about all the buildings but I found visitors didn’t want a lot of information. They enjoyed just a gentle stroll and a chat about anything that caught their eye. Peeking through the windows of the prefab was always good fun and we enjoyed discussing things like the wonderful onions grown in the allotment. Each walk seemed to follow the same route but it was never boring. With new people each time, every conversation was different and every experience delightful. I was sorry when the programme came to an end. I’m sure the visitors all enjoyed it and I certainly did. Let’s hope it happens again.

What a great few months. Here’s to next year!”

Over the last few weeks of 2020, I’ve been told time and time again by our volunteers ‘I feel like I am part of a huge family’… feedback doesn’t get much better than that.

It has not been easy – for anyone. The one thing that has certainly helped me and my colleagues with every challenge put in front of us, is seeing how important our Museum is to our volunteers and how it has helped them all get through one of the hardest years they’ve known. No-one can be sure how coronavirus will affect us in 2021 but we’ll certainly have an army of ever-growing volunteer support behind us.

If you’re interested in getting involved in volunteering in 2021, then please drop me an email at volunteering@coam.org.uk

Katie Pilcher
Volunteering and Communications Officer


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Jess the sheep dog at 15 weeks

Jess at 15 weeks

Well Jess is continuing to grow at a pace and weighing in at 9.6 kgs, she is pretty much toilet trained and is becoming less of a full time job and more an integral part of the family. Socialising now is the priority as she is a bit limited with the current COVID situation, so, plenty of walks and chances to meet other people and dogs. She seems to love people as long as they are not to “in her face” she then tends to keep her distance for a while until she builds up courage. Dogs however are a bit more scary and she’d run a mile if she wasn’t on a lead so the more chances to meet them the better. Yesterday, she met a tiny puppy about the same age as her and was scared to death at first but a bit of perseverance and she soon overcame any fear and was rough and tumbling and realising what good fun it was.

Sheep dog puppy walking sheep up path

Now over to her main purpose in life, being a sheepdog! Over the last couple of weeks she has been to see the sheep at feeding time and is developing a mild interest so it’s important to keep nurturing it steadily. Today we needed to move the sheep to pastures new as we have recently wormed them and they need fresh grass so it seemed an opportune time to let Jess get a little more involved. All dogs are different and as a trainer I need to recognise what sort of temperament she has and how will she work sheep, some won’t develop a desire to work for many months, others dive straight in and attack ( this is the wolf ancestry hunt and kill instinct that ultimately drives them all to work).

sheep dog puppy observing sheep with head it's head in a bucket

Jess seems to be in the middle somewhere with quite an interest but a bit wary so it’s vital she doesn’t get put off by an angry sheep as this could affect her for life. Many pups don’t do anything at first particularly if the sheep aren’t worried by the dogs’ presence and don’t move away, the pup just ends up confused and unsure what to do. What we need is moving sheep to bring out the chasing instinct and this change of pasture seemed ideal. Starting with the lambs who have been grazing off the Hidden Meadow (our piece of chalk downland) I let them go past her and proceeded to follow them with Jess on an extendable lead, the video was taken by Rachael our shepherdess and you can clearly see Jess getting very excited, nipping at their heels and even showing a desire to want to go round them and head them off. These moments are without doubt my favourite part of training a working collie as you get that flood of relief that your new acquisition has something in her that we can work with.

For now that is about as far as I will go with her, just regular visits to see the sheep to build up a real burning desire to herd them, we’ll wait until she is big enough and fast enough to out run them before we start the serious business of training to commands etc. She will however be getting home schooling on the basics, walking steady, stopping, lying down etc. and of course coming back to me which seems to be our biggest challenge at the moment!

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd at COAM


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Jess the sheep dog at 13 weeks

Well it’s been almost three weeks now and Jess is growing fast, she has gained 1.6 kgs and is noticeably bigger. Dogs are like children but the whole growing and learning thing is accelerated so that a few days can see a dramatic change in behaviour and attitude. She is now allowed out for walks having had her vaccinations so we are learning to walk to heel and getting used to traffic and strange people, she has a bit of a fascination with cars going past so I have to keep a tight hand on the lead and try and distract her as they whiz past. At home we are getting her used to living with a family and knowing her boundaries, plenty of trips to the lawn are paying off as the little accidents lessen off and she is starting to go to the door when the urge is there.

Jess the sheep dog puppy meets the sheep

 

A few days ago I took her to meet some of the museum staff and to have her first look at sheep. She was well accepted by all so I’m sure she will become a special volunteer in everyone’s hearts. It does somewhat depend on how she turns out as a sheepdog, some of which will be down to my training. Rachael (COAM’s Farm Assistant) and I took her to the sheep for a first look and she wasn’t too keen but they are pretty big. Regular visits will eventually bring out an interest and sometime in the next few months I will let her have a free run to encourage her to herd them we hope.

For now it’s just enjoying her young days being cuddled and played with to hopefully make a friendly happy dog!

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd

Other blog posts by Steve

The circle of life
Jess the sheep dog


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Jess the Sheepdog

A new volunteer for COAM

So a mild enquiry about sheepdog pups that might be available after Christmas resulted in me being told that an old friend of mine who is a top sheepdog trials man might have some puppies, he lived in Sussex so not too far. I called and had a chat telling him I wanted a pup after Christmas if possible. Unfortunately he didn’t have anything currently although he knew of a pup at a neighbours and his dog was the father. I expressed mild interest and asked for some details and pictures to be e-mailed to me.

My old dog Ted was a rough coated, tri colour male dog and that is what we intended to get again as we liked that look, the puppy being offered was a Black and White, short coated bitch! Surely this would not be for us? The picture arrived, not the most appealing picture, they obviously weren’t into marketing!! She did however appear to be nicely marked.

Having established that she did indeed have two eyes I responded that we would like to see some more and a video if possible, inwardly I was not convinced. However when the better pictures arrived we were warming and had pretty much made up our minds to pay them a visit for a proper look, a visit to Sussex was quite appealing, it was a bit of a shock to find out that my old friend had moved to Devon when his neighbour sent the address of their farm!! So were we to go all that way just to see a puppy that was not what we intended to get and at least 3 months too soon. Suffice it to say it didn’t take long to have made arrangements to drive down and see her, stay overnight in a delightful little B&B called the Old Bakehouse in Chulmleigh Devon, go back and collect her the following morning and wend our way back home.

Our trip down was excellent and we arrived early afternoon to be greeted by the owner who led us to a farm pen, opened the door and out ran the sweetest little dog you could imagine, scooped up immediately by my wife Sue who exclaimed “we’re having her” My chances of a good deal had just gone down the drain! Our fate was sealed and after a very pleasant evening in Chulmleigh we found, ourselves back at the farm the following morning collecting our new charge. Money’s changed hands, papers sorted, a supply of her current puppy food obtained, popped in her travelling crate and on our way back home we went. Well talk about a change, our adorable soft little pup turned into a screaming howling wolf cub as she experienced car travel for the first time, we knew what to expect but with a 3-4 hour trip ahead it didn’t bode well. Fortunately after about half an hour she was a little sick, made some mess from a couple of other orifices and then settled down. The rest of the journey was quiet and Jess as she was now called was settling in to life with us.

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd

Other blog posts by Steve

The circle of life
Jess the sheep dog at 13 weeks


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Chalk Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership

Be a part of the new Chilterns Summer Festival in 2020

Our friends, The Chilterns Conservation Board, are running a new Heritage Lottery Funded project called Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership. As part of this project they are running an exciting Chilterns Summer Festival in 2020, to help promote the Chilterns and its unique heritage and landscape. Chiltern Open Air Museum are taking part in it and you can get involved too!

Are you a local artist/ business/ organisation or just someone who loves a good day out in the Chilterns?

Chilterns Summer Festival Blacksmith at COAM

As part of the brand-new Heritage Lottery Funded Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership, the Chilterns Summer Festival offers a 9-day schedule of fun, educational and family friendly events across the Central Chilterns.

Chalk, Cherries & Chairs (CCC) is an ambitious five-year scheme which aims to connect local people to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns. The scheme operates under three themes – wildlife, heritage and people – each project that falls under these three themes are all designed with the Chilterns landscape in mind. There will be no less than eighteen interweaving projects which share common threads, including volunteering, learning and digital media. The scheme will also provide small grants to encourage community initiatives.

Chilterns Summer Festival Chilterns Conservation Board

The CCC aims to engage and empower local communities in the Chilterns, while conserving the breath-taking character of this region we call home. From 13 – 21 June 2020, the CCC will be putting on a wide range of fun and informative events, to bring communities together and ensure everyone has a great time celebrating the Chilterns and its unique heritage and landscape. 

What kind of events will the festival include?

  • Brewery tasting and tours
  • Outdoor cinema events
  • Guided walks
  • Cherry themed events
  • Family-fun days in town centres
  • Light shows and installations
  • Adventure suppers
  • Music and dance performances
  • And much more!

The Chilterns Conservation Board are very excited to be working with lots of local businesses, farmers, and community groups on this new festival (which will run annually until 2024) and would love to work with more as well.

Chilterns Summer Festival

What are they looking for?

  • Volunteers (to help at town centre events, first aid, stewarding, communications help, etc)
  • Local businesses who want to: host an event, sponsor an event, showcase their products, have a stall at one of the events
  • Community groups, to work with them on unique community centred events that reflect a community’s needs and interests
  • Sponsors: these events will be advertised across the Chilterns and offer a great opportunity to gain widespread exposure for your brand and business in this region. Sponsorship is flexible and CCB are happy to discuss arrangements which work for both parties.

Further Information:

If you would like to find out more about the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs projects, you can visit the CCB website

To learn more about the festival and upcoming events or volunteering opportunities, sign up for their newsletter

For any further information, or press opportunities, please contact Elizabeth Buckley, Communications and Community Engagement Officer of the CCC on lbuckley@chilternsaonb.org


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Museum Inspires Author

Vix J Cooper, known as workshop leader and farm volunteer Jane at the museum, talks about how her time at COAM gave her inspiration when writing her book Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed. She says…

My senses are always given a treat by the wonderful landscape at COAM through the different seasons. This, plus time spent in the buildings, listening to visitors recounting their past experiences, and having a go at traditional technology and techniques is not only informative but inspires some of my writing too, such as regarding the impact of WW2 and traditional washing methods.

It feels a privilege earning the trust of the museum’s animals and getting to know their particular habits, likes and dislikes. The cats are usually the first to greet me when I’m on feed duties. They’re nicer than the cat in my story Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed, despite them crunching rabbit by my feet in Borehamwood! The cows tolerate my random singing when I’m grooming Clementine, and the hens normally respond to my clucks. Often, after I’ve finished a morning feed, I’ll sit on the step to Borehamwood with a cuppa and watch the birds and clouds, rain or sunshine dancing across Hill Farm barn roof, or fallen leaves racing around the site.

Lambing by moonlight is magical with shadows of the clouds, trees and animals roaming. I’ve learnt to work out “who goes there” from the different eye shapes glinting and moving across the site for farm and wild animals. The quiet of the night amplifies masticating mouths, rumbling stomachs and belches of the sheep, as well as the hooting of owls and barking of deer. My own family groan when I, or the car, reek of iodine and worse when it’s lambing time. Post-midnight showers can become almost routine before crawling into bed after lamb – or kid – late shifts. While the ewes are reliably well-behaved, the same can’t always be said of the goats who can have me doubling up with laughter over their antics: Dotty refusing to go in the field so we engage in a tug of war with me holding onto her horns and her walking backwards; Crystal taking me for a walk, dragging me at the end of her lead or standing up on her back legs to eat foliage up a tree; and Dora climbing in the wheelbarrow I’m trying to get out of the field after refilling the hay feeder.

With many Coopers in the world, I added Vix to J Cooper because I admire foxes for their adaptability and I thought Vix, short for vixen, would be different. I originally wrote Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed for children aged nine and above, but adults do buy it and anyone connected to the museum may just enjoy reading it to discover what and who inspired some of my characters and bits of the storyline. I’m currently writing a follow-up with the main character Hugo. I’ve also written a story, aimed at 3-7 year olds and currently with my illustrator, which should be published about September time. Traditional landscapes, plus my roles as workshop leader and forest school practitioner were certainly influential for this book. I’m restless if I go a day without writing, and special places such as COAM both sooth and exhilarate me.

Crazy Pets and secrets Revealed can be ordered from Amazon & other bookshops.


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The Future of Volunteering

 The future of volunteering

The Future of Volunteering?

Some voluntary organisations have recently argued that there is a financial imperative to embrace new ways of volunteering. It is true that many Museums, assuming they receive any regular funding at all, are seeing cuts to their funding. If you presume that volunteers only create economic value, you could argue that volunteers may be a way to “save you money”. At Chiltern Open Air Museum we engage volunteers to “add value” to the Museum experience. This draws on the argument that volunteers produce value that is not simply economic; they produce private and social value (less tangible benefits for themselves, the organisation and society more widely). When volunteering focuses on the additional benefits of volunteering, rather than seeing it as a means to reduce costs, we make best use of volunteers’ enthusiasm, skills and knowledge.

One of these news ways of volunteering is microvolunteering, defined by Institute for Volunteering Research as “bite-size volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete.” Although some organisations argue that there are clear benefits to microvolunteering, I believe that it has some critical flaws. It is suggested that the short duration and repetitive nature of microvolunteering allows organisations to target the demographics missing from their volunteer base, for example allowing parents with limited free time to volunteer. Unfortunately, this assumes that volunteering is the best use of time for those people who don’t currently volunteer. With Museums trialing new engagement strategies (see for example the Natural History Museum, who are advertising “visiteering” – a portmanteau of “visiting” and “volunteering”), I believe that they are eroding the foundations of both those activities.

The concept of “gamification” also emerges in microvolunteering: the idea that engagement can be encouraged by applying game design techniques. For example the Natural History Museum advertises: “You will be set a challenge relating to the collections”. This builds on the trend for phrasing activities as competitions, and emphasising the instant gratification that occurs with the successful completion of the “challenge”. By phrasing volunteering as “a game” or “a challenge” we are excluding those volunteers whose motivations are not aligned with this way of thinking, like those who are volunteering for social reasons or out of a sense of charity. At Chiltern Open Air Museum, we have found that value is created by consulting and working with volunteers and integrating them into a community.

It is argued that the “many hands make light work” principle applies: is it better for 100 people to give 5 minutes of their time, or for one person to volunteer for a day? When volunteering focuses on longer term aims, the relationship between the volunteer and the organisation is strengthened, and the volunteer is enabled to develop skills which cannot be cultivated when the focus is short term. While the economic value of the two situations above might be roughly equivalent, I would argue that the private and social value are much higher when the length of volunteering is increased: expertise and confidence take time to grow.

We need to become advocates of volunteering best practice before people’s expectation of volunteering is significantly altered by this trend towards microvolunteering and gamification. If we allow people to see volunteering as bite-size, informal and challenging, this does not bode well for the time when the “missing demographics” become our “core demographic”. We must ensure that volunteering opportunities have value and that the experience is meaningful.

George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader


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The Pleasure of Volunteering

The Pleasure of Volunteering – A New Volunteer’s Endorsement

It’s a bitterly cold winter’s day. The sky is grey and the increasingly heavy rain is threatening to turn to snow.  The icy wind’s tentacles feel their way through every gap in my clothing. I am working alone.

A relatively new volunteer on the Museum farm, I am working at the side of a field today, adding the binders to a nearly completed laid hedge. My hands in my saturated work gloves are cold and the rain is creeping through those not so waterproof parts of my old rain jacket.

One year previously I would have been sat in my warm and dry office feeling pity for the wet and cold workmen on the building site opposite. But today I am happy. In fact, I am far happier than I was in my office going about my stressful managerial role. I am enjoying myself in these inhospitable conditions. Thank you Fate that gave me the early retirement opportunity to stand here on such miserable day!

So what attracted me as a volunteer and why am I happy to be wet and cold in a muddy field today? I had previously worked with another voluntary group that occasionally helped the Museum farm with specific projects. This gave me an insight into the Museum and its people. I had noticed the enthusiasm and dedication of the staff and other volunteers and their welcoming nature, and thought that one day I would like to become a regular volunteer.

The opportunity came and I took it. Over six months on, I am thoroughly enjoying my small role and remain enthused by the positive environment. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. There are no targets or expectations other than your own. You can dedicate as little or as much time as you want. Of course volunteers want to do a good job and be effective in their own way. One word of warning though – it’s addictive!

Volunteers-COAM-400px

Volunteers can choose to bring their own skill sets to their role. They often volunteer in areas they have an interest in such as building construction or gardening. Others, as I have chosen, do something completely different to their skills and interests. And what is so encouraging is that the staff and other volunteers give you the time, patience and encouragement to help you learn new skills.

Working in a cold wet field on my own today is entirely my choice. The task needed completing and the farm is short of volunteers today. So I just get on with it. But I am not unusual. Far from it. The Museum has many volunteers working on the farm, maintaining the Museum’s buildings and gardens that will also be out working in all conditions to help run and maintain the Museum – and enjoying it!

Although there is no pressure, volunteers are very committed to the Museum and are usually more than happy doing something they might not really want to do. And when it’s done, they feel great!

Volunteering is critical for the successful operation of the Museum. Without volunteers there would probably be no Museum as funding would not cover the value volunteers bring. And this value cannot be brought. As well as skills and experience some volunteers bring, others just bring enthusiasm, dedication and determination.

So it is a win, win situation. Volunteers get to do something worthwhile which they enjoy and the Museum gets the additional resource it needs to maintain an enjoyable visitor experience.

So if you are interested in volunteering, to get an idea of the opportunities, visit https://www.coam.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/ Maybe you will be joining me in the rain one winter – or on dry and sunny summers day!

 


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